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California Hydroelectric Plant Shut Down As Water Level Drops

A car crosses Enterprise Bridge over Lake Oroville's dry banks in Oroville, Calif., May 23, 2021,.
AP Photo / Noah Berger
A car crosses Enterprise Bridge over Lake Oroville's dry banks in Oroville, Calif., May 23, 2021,.

Drought-stricken California on Thursday shut down one of its largest hydroelectric plants because there's not enough water to power it.

The six-turbine Edward Hyatt Power Plant was taken off-line after the water level in the Oroville Dam reservoir that feeds it sank to an historic low of less than 642 feet (195.7 meters) above mean sea level.

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The reservoir in the Sierra Nevada foothills north of Sacramento was less than a quarter full.

It was the lowest level since the nation's tallest dam was completed in 1967 and the first time the hydroelectric plant has been idled by lack of water, officials said.

The plant can produce enough power for 80,000 homes and businesses but its shutdown had been expected “and the state has planned for its loss in both water and (electrical) grid management," said a statement from the state Department of Water Resources.

“Steps have been taken in anticipation of the loss of power generation,” the statement said.

“This is just one of many unprecedented impacts we are experiencing in California as a result of our climate-induced drought,” agency director Karla Nemeth said.


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The western United States is in the midst of an historic drought that is emptying reservoirs and contributing to massive wildfires.

Extreme conditions are often from a combination of unusual random, short-term and natural weather patterns heightened by long-term, human-caused climate change that has made the West much warmer and drier in the past 30 years.

Hydroelectricity provides about 15% of California electricity but production has plummeted in recent years. Gov. Gavin Newsom last month signed an emergency proclamation suspending certain requirements so the state could obtain additional power capacity to avoid blackouts under high-demand conditions.

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The low water level at Lake Oroville is a far cry from four years ago, when more than 180,000 people were evacuated after heavy winter storms filled the reservoir and its two spillways collapsed. The feared uncontrolled release of massive amounts of water didn't happen but the state was left with a $1 billion repair bill.